If you’re a disabled veteran, you are likely entitled to some compensation from the VA. But many veterans find that their VA disability application gets denied. When that happens, you may find yourself facing a long, confusing appeals process.
Taking your case before the BVA can be a challenging process. Continue reading to learn more about what to expect so you can be prepared to take on this paperwork battlefield.
In This Article about BVA Hearings:
- What Is a BVA Hearing?
- How to Qualify for VA Disability
- Who Presides as Judge
- Do I Have to Travel to My BVA Hearing?
- Travel Board Hearing
- Hearings in Washington
- Videoconference Hearings
- Virtual Hearings for the BVA
- Special Disability Arrangements
- Get a Copy of Your Claims File
- Prepare Your Statement
- Submitting Evidence Before the Hearing
- Pre-Hearing Conference
- How to Dress for Your Hearing
- Length of the BVA Hearing
- During the Hearing
- Submitting Evidence After the Hearing
- Prepare for Your BVA Hearing
What Is a BVA Hearing?
The Board of Veteran Appeals is a division separate from the Veterans Benefits Administration. Their job is to review appeals filed for denied VA benefits applications. They hold hearings to go over the evidence about the case and determine if the veteran is entitled to disability compensation through the VA.
The BVA is actually somewhat analogous to the Supreme Court. Your appeal will begin with your local VBA Regional Office. If they deny your case again, or if you want it reviewed by a higher authority, you can appeal to the BVA.
How to Qualify for VA Disability
Before we dive into what to expect from a BVA hearing, let’s talk about what it takes to qualify for VA disability benefits. There are three main criteria, the first of which is you must have a diagnosis for your injury or condition. This diagnosis must come from a VA-approved expert, whether that is a physician, a licensed counselor, or a psychiatrist.
In addition to a diagnosis, you must also have documentation of some event, injury, or illness that occurred during your service. Finally, you must have a medical nexus linking your diagnosis to the event that happened during your service. This way, you can prove the chain of events connecting an incident during your time in the military with your current health concerns.
Here is one of our VA disability lawyers explaining the importance of the Nexus Letter.
Who Presides as Judge
The Board of Veterans Appeals has Veteran Law Judges who preside over all BVA hearing proceedings. These judges review case files before the hearing convenes so they can summarize the issues being appealed. They can also review any evidence you submit before the hearing.
When you’re addressing the judge during your hearing proceedings, the proper title to use is “Mr. Chairman” or “Madam Chair.”
Do I Have to Travel to My BVA Hearing?
No, you do not. Many veterans believe if they want to appeal their case to the BVA, they have to travel to Washington, D.C. If you’re living with a disability, this is more difficult and more expensive for you compared to others. But additional options can help you avoid travel difficulties.
There are three ways you can attend a BVA hearing: at your regional VBA office, in Washington, or via videoconferencing. Especially in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the videoconferencing option has become essential. If travel is not a feasible option for you, you can still appeal your case and get the compensation you’re entitled to.
Three Ways to Appear at You BVA Hearing
- At your regional VBA office
- In Washington D.C.
- Via videoconference or ‘Virtual Hearing
Travel Board Hearing
Every year, the BVA visits each regional office in the country. They stay in each place for about five days so they can hold hearings for the veterans in that region appealing their applications. The downside of this option is that you may have to wait for months to have your case heard because the travel board will only be in town once a year.
If you do plan to go this route, make sure you show up at your VBA office early in the morning on the first day of the travel board hearings. Many hearings will be booked for each time slot, and they are heard on a first-come, first-serve basis. The earlier you get there, the greater the chance you’ll get to have your case heard.
VA compensation benefits attorney Sarah Woods explains what steps we take to file VA disability appeals:
Hearings in Washington
If you need to have your case heard urgently or if traveling to Washington, D.C., isn’t a hardship for you, you can also appeal your case at the BVA Central Office. These hearings happen year-round, so you may not have to wait as long for a time slot.
Similar to the travel board hearings, it’s a good idea to get to the BVA office as early as you can. The first claimant to sign in will be the first one to have their case heard. You will have an opportunity to review your claim file before the hearing, so be sure to ask to see the file.
If you need to have a hearing sooner and you can’t travel to Washington, you can have a videoconference hearing. During this hearing, the Veteran Law Judge will be in a conference room in the BVA Central Office. You and your representative will be in a conference room in your regional VBA office.
There may be more than one person scheduled for a video call on any given day, and the same first-come, first-serve basis applies to this process, too. You’ll sign in and wait for your case to be called. Then you’ll be brought to a conference room, where there will be a large projector screen on which you can see and interact with your judge.
Virtual Hearings for the BVA
Since April 10, 2020, veterans can choose to have a virtual hearing from their own homes. You can have a VA lawyer or family member be there with you to help out and stay home for the hearing. While this has been put into effect because of the Covid-19 pandemic, it will likely stay active because it is much more convenient for veterans.
Special Disability Arrangements
Many special arrangements can be made if you are unable to attend your hearing. If you are unable to do a virtual hearing, contact the VA to make arrangements. We work with all of our clients in advance to make sure there aren’t any surprises about your hearing. If you foresee anything coming up that would interfere with your appointment, call us to let us know so we can prepare accordingly.
Get a Copy of Your Claims File
Before you begin your BVA hearing, it’s important to get a copy of your claims file, also known as your C-file, and review it with your attorney. The BVA isn’t perfect, and sometimes files get switched around. You don’t want to wind up with a decision being made about your appeal based on someone else’s claims file.
To get a copy of your C-file, you must put in an application with your VA Regional Office. Submit VA Form 3288, which is a request for and consent to release of information from individual records. This request can take several months to process, so make sure you submit this form well in advance of your hearing.
We will work to get that form for you as soon as you begin working with us. We know how to process and handle your C-File efficiently and in detail to make sure you get the best claim you can.
Prepare Your Statement
When you get to your BVA hearing, you will be asked to make a statement about your case. You’ll need to work with your lawyer to put together your statement. It will need to clearly demonstrate both your condition and your eligibility for VA compensation.
Be sure to refer back to your claims file when you’re preparing your statement for the BVA hearing. Establish the three pillars of your eligibility: your diagnosis, the incident that caused it, and the medical nexus connecting the two. It’s also a good idea to go over how your injury is rated by the VA system and the effective date at which your disability began.
Here is one of our (retired!) VA disability lawyers talking about how important the effective date is to your VA Disability back pay.
Submitting Evidence Before the Hearing
Before your case goes to the BVA for a hearing, you’ll have a chance to submit evidence for the judge to review. This can be an important piece of your case since it can help to establish your pillars of eligibility and prove that you are entitled to compensation. You’ll need to submit any evidence you want to include well in advance of your hearing so the judge has time to review it.
Make sure you gather all the evidence you’ll need for your hearing the first time you submit it to the BVA. Although you can add new evidence to your case, the judge will need time to review it. This can delay your hearing by months, all while you’re left without compensation.
Before you ever get to your BVA hearing, you will attend a pre-hearing conference with the judge and your representative. This conference is informal and off the record. It is a tool to allow your hearing to go as smoothly as possible for everybody involved.
During your pre-hearing conference, you, your attorney, and the judge will review the specific issues to be discussed in your case. If there are any questions on either side, this is the time to get answers. When you get into the courtroom, you’ll be prepared to proceed with the hearing with no interruptions.
VA disability appeal attorney Sarah Woods explains the VA’s new Appeals Modernization Act (ACA):
How to Dress for Your Hearing
When you’re going to a BVA hearing, you’ll want to make a good first impression on the judge. The better they think of you, the more likely they might be to decide the case in your favor. That being said, a BVA hearing is by no means a black-tie occasion.
You should wear something that you’re comfortable and confident in. If you’re most comfortable in a suit, by all means, wear one. But if you’re happier in a polo and khakis, that is fine for a hearing that will only be attended by you, your attorney, and the judge.
Length of the BVA Hearing
In general, BVA hearings are not lengthy affairs. Part of the purpose of the pre-hearing conference is to get any problems out of the way so the hearing can move quickly. The BVA judges have a lot of cases to hear, and they want to move through them quickly.
In most cases, a BVA hearing will take about an hour. If your case is especially complex and you expect to need more time, be sure to notify the judge of that beforehand. Then they can be prepared to grant you the time you need to have your case properly heard.
During the Hearing
Once you get into the actual hearing, it will carry on much like any other court proceeding. You will be asked to swear that your testimony is truthful, and then the judge will provide a brief introduction. This will cover who you are, what issues are set to be discussed, the location of the hearing, and the name of your attorney.
After the introductions are done, your attorney will make an opening statement and perform your initial questioning. This is when your prepared statement will come into play. The judge may ask you a few questions after your statement, and then your attorney will make a closing statement before the judge issues their ruling and adjourns the hearing.
Submitting Evidence After the Hearing
You will also be able to submit some evidence after your hearing is over if required. The judge may discover during your hearing that they need an additional piece of evidence to make their decision. This may include getting a new medical opinion if the judge doesn’t trust the source of your diagnosis.
If the judge requests additional evidence at your hearing, you can ask them to hold off on issuing a decision for a period of time while you gather the necessary evidence. This is called holding the record open. Oftentimes, the period that the BVA will hold a record open is 60 days or less, so you’ll need to move quickly.
You can find out more about BVA hearings directly from the VA at https://www.bva.va.gov/.
Prepare for Your BVA Hearing
Being denied disability compensation and filing an appeal is a difficult process. When it is time for your BVA hearing, knowing what to expect can help you feel calmer and more prepared. Make sure you have your claims file available and you allow plenty of time for any applications or requests and you’ll have a smooth hearing.
If you’re going up against the BVA, don’t face them alone – reach out to us at Woods and Woods. We fight for disabled veterans nationwide, as we have since the 80s, and you only pay if we win. Begin your appeal and start getting the help you need today.
You can now have your hearing via Virtual Hearing using the VA Video Connect app. You’ll need to schedule your hearing, but then you can attend your hearing from your own couch or your lawyer’s office.
There are a lot of steps that you need to go through before you get to your hearing. Our appeals teams keeps track of your claim at the VA so that we know as soon as your hearing is scheduled. We notify our clients right away so that you’ll know how to prepare yourself best.